On Sept. 8 and 9, at the annual Vassar Invitational Tournament, the Vassar Women’s Volleyball team kicked off its home season. Acording to senior defensive specialist Lauren Ninkovich, the team’s goals for the campaign are nothing short of making it back to the finals of the Liberty League tournament and ultimately a birth in the NCAA tournament.
The Brewers began the tournament with a face-off against the Oswego State Lakers, and, after dropping the first set, won the next three in commanding fashion to take the contest. The first set saw the Brewers trail by as many as six points, but—in a sign of things to come—they battled hard and scored three consecutive times on set point to make it close. The team had found their groove.
Oswego State fought hard for the next three sets, but big Vassar runs in each proved too much for the visiting Lakers to overcome. A kill from junior Jennifer Kerbs ended the second set and two from Lauren Ninkovich saw off the third and fourth, with Vassar holding Oswego under 20 points in each. Senior hitter Devan Gallagher led the Brewers as a whole, with 15 kills and six aces in the match.
No more than 30 minutes later, the Brewers once again took the court to face the University of New England Nor’easters, riding their momentum to a victory in straight sets. Strong runs dominated the flow of the game, with efficient serving from multiple players making it difficult for the Nor’easters to hang with the Brewers. Gallagher paced the Brewers with 12 kills and five aces while not recording a single error, with Ninkovich adding 11 kills of her own. Kerbs and junior hitter Jane McLeod also put up strong
stat lines on the day, with 11 and 20 kills over the two matches respectively. Another of the day’s top storylines was the encouraging play of first- years Claire Bialek, Madison Wilson and Claire Basler-Chang in both victories.
The second day of play proved to be more challenging than the first for the Brewers, but served to show the team’s resilience. The open- ing match on Sunday saw the Brewers square off against the Fredonia Blue Devils. The first set started off close—Fredonia battled the Brewers to a 9-9 tie before going off a run that would see them take the set 25-18.
The second set was competitive as well, with multiple lead changes and momentum swings. Vassar rallied to tie the set 14-14 and later pulled within one to make it 22-21. However, one final run from the Blue Devils saw Vassar finally drop the set and go down 0-2. The Brewers, refusing to be swept in their own tournament, battled back and took the third set in a commanding fashion by claiming an early lead and never looking back. The fourth and deciding set was the most hotly contested set Vassar would play in the tournament, seeing 12 ties and five lead changes, as Fredonia tried to end it again and again and Vassar vied to stay alive.
With the score knotted at 25-25, the set continued, the Brewers once again showing their re- fusal to quit. In an exhilarating back-and-forth, the Blue Devils forced four match points with Vassar drawing even after every one, until, eventually, Fredonia struck the final blow to take the set 31-29 and the match 3-1. Gallagher led the Brewers with 17 kills in the contest, alongside 10 from McLeod and five from first-year Sara Ehnstrom.
In their final match of the tournament Vassar drew Scranton, and it was to be another display of Brewer determination and fight. Mirroring the Fredonia match, the Brewers dropped the first two sets and found themselves in a hole. Scranton held an early 6-1 lead in the third set, but the Brewers rallied to capture the frame. They retained their momentum, taking the next set 25-17 to force a deciding fifth set. In the short- er final set, another Scranton early lead proved too much to overcome, but having been down 0-2, the team’s character still shone through. Once again Gallagher, McLeod, Ehnstrom and Ninkovich led the Vassar squad.
The Brewers won’t be too dejected at their setback. “[The team] is still getting a sense of how to play together successfully on a consistent basis,” admitted Ninkovich. And there are real positives to take from the weekend. Ninkovich continued, “I think we really showed that against Scranton, even though the result was not what we wanted, we didn’t make it easy for them…we gave it all we had.”
It is that same fight and grit that earned Coach Jonathan Penn’s team second place in the preseason Liberty League polls and that, after a weekend of triumphs and body blows, will have their sights set even higher. In Vassar’s next home match, against Stockton on Sept. 15, the team will look to build upon the positives from the tournament and fight toward their ultimate goals.